Bill March is a veteran of the Cleveland music scene.
He has played solo and with a countless number of bands, in a career spanning over three decades. Bill has played with many local favorite recording artists such as Jonah Koslen (Stage Pass Now, Breathless, MSB), Wally Bryson (Raspberries), and was also a founding member of Beau Coup. Bill plays music from the singer/songwriter era.
Bill March began playing music at the age of ten. “As a kid I was inspired by Paul McCartney, so I decided to become a bass player. My first bass guitar was a cheap imitation of Paul’s Hofner violin bass.”
In those days, when someone wanted to learn how to play an instrument, they had to take music lessons. Bill was no exception, but his musical training extended way beyond all the method books for the bass guitar. “As soon as I learned where the notes were on my bass, I spent as much time as I could in my room, learning how to play songs off of records. I wanted to learn the bass lines of my favorite players like McCartney, Chris Squire (Yes), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), and anyone else who I thought played interesting stuff. I really learned how to play the bass by imitating my idols.”
Even before learning how to play the bass, however, there was something else musical that Bill enjoyed doing. Writing songs. “I used to write songs in my head before I ever learned to play an instrument. I would walk home from school and make up little songs for an imaginary album by an imaginary band.”
The next logical step after learning to play an instrument was to find other musicians to play with. “I wanted to be in a band. I started out playing with a couple of friends from school.” Before long, however, Bill started branching out and began meeting musicians from neighboring towns. “I learned about other musicians through music teachers, newspaper ads, and especially through word of mouth.” Bill cites playing with lots of different musicians as the most important factor in his musical development. “There’s no method book that can teach you how to be in a band. You can only practice in your bedroom for so long. You have to get out and play with other musicians. Preferably, with musicians who are a little bit better than you, so you can learn from them.”
Getting into a band of course led to playing gigs. “I played at parties and school dances at first, but by the time I was 15 years old, I started playing in night clubs. Hey, it was the 70’s!” At one point, while still in high school, Bill was playing six nights a week in Youngstown, over an hour away from home. “I’d get home well after midnight and have to get up for school the next day. I sometimes had to do my homework in the office of whatever bar I was playing in!”
Bill was in bands that played whatever was popular on the radio at that time. He was now a working musician. “I probably made triple the amount of money as someone working at McDonalds or any other job you get as a teenager. I lived at home and had no expenses. I remember buying lots of new guitars and amplifiers!”
Another important skill that Bill began to develop during this period was to learn how to sing. “I started out singing background vocals, but I eventually began to sing lead too.
It took a long time to become effective as a singer. I really wanted to develop my voice. Another example of wanting to be like Paul McCartney.”
After high school, Bill went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I learned a lot about music theory there, but the most valuable thing I learned was the art of listening. I learned how to visualize what was going on in the music. The melody, the chords, and especially, the bass part. I developed my ear to the point where I could learn a song in my head first and then later play it on my instrument.”
Bill attended Berklee for one year. He loved it there, but over summer break he decided to pursue an exciting opportunity. “I was in a band with my buddies and we were asked to become the backup band for an Elvis impersonator in Los Angeles. We were paid to help him put together a show and were also given comfortable living accommodations out there. The Elvis thing was fine, but we were really excited about the idea of seeking our fame and fortune in California.” We were all 18-19 years old.”
The move to California only lasted six months because the Elvis impersonator didn’t do very well out there. There was just too much competition. “Before we came home we began playing gigs as a Top 40 band. We were good musicians, but in order to really make a go of things, we needed to develop original material. We were just starting to do that, but if truth be told, I think some of us were pretty homesick.”
Bill returned to Cleveland and soon began playing around town again. “Playing gigs was how I made my living.” Bill was working, but in the back of his mind he still had the dream of being in a band that made records. “By this time I had learned how to play guitar and piano well enough to write songs. I had always written songs, but I became more serious about it.”
Bill began working with other musicians who were also writing songs. “I started recording my own songs and I also played bass on recordings that my friends were starting to make. All of us were trying to learn the art of how to make records. We all had the dream of getting the grand prize. The coveted recording contract.”
The idea of playing bass for either an established recording act or singer/songwriter was also an option that Bill kept open. That opportunity came when he was invited to play with Jonah Koslen. Jonah had been with the very popular Michael Stanley Band (MSB). He also had his own group called Breathless that he made a few albums with. “I got an audition with Jonah Koslen and the Heroes, and became their bass player for their final year together.” Playing with Jonah made Bill feel like he had finally graduated up to a higher musical level. People came out specifically to hear Jonah’s music. “We played concerts at some really great venues. The Heroes only lasted for a year, but Bill would work with Jonah on and off for the next 30 years.In 1983, a new era began with Bill becoming one of the founding members of Beau Coup.
“I remember working with all the guys individually at first. We used to help each other out on the various recordings we were all making individually.” Eventually, the primary members came together as a unit. The rest, as they say, is now Cleveland music history. Playing in Beau Coup was definitely the highest point of Bill’s career. Dennis Lewin’s songs combined with Frank and Tom Amato’s voices, along with the strong rhythm section of Bill, Don Krueger and guitarists including Mike McGill and Billy Sullivan, proved to be a winning combination. “We had a great run from 1983-1990. We had a recording contract, popular songs on local and national radio, and capacity crowds coming to see us play live. I think the peak was when we sold out the Front Row Theater in 1988.”
As the decade of the 80’s came to a close, Beau Coup began to wind down. The beginning of the 90’s saw Bill (and his new wife Debbie) move to New York City. “I wanted a fresh start outside of Cleveland. I knew a few people living in New York, so that’s where we went.” Bill loved living in New York. He quickly found work playing in Greenwhich Village as part of a duo. “I answered an ad in the Village Voice. I called the number and left the guy a message saying that his search was over. I was exactly what he was looking for! He hired me after we met and played one song together. He liked my attitude!” Bill also found a band working on original material and began rehearsing with them too.
Bill lived in New York for three years. He loved playing in the Village, but not much happened with the band project. “ I left the band because I saw that it was really just a vehicle for one songwriter’s material. I decided I wanted to continue working on my own stuff. I started recording songs on my own again. I began by making a demo with me doing everything myself. After that, I started using musicians I had met playing in various clubs. I loved New York, but my wife and I decided that they wanted to start a family, so it seemed logical that we should move back to Cleveland.”
Upon returning to Cleveland, Bill worked as a freelance musician and also helped form the bands Twist and My Three Sons. He sometimes played as a solo performer too. “I still play solo gigs. I love doing unplugged versions of songs by my favorite songwriters. To me, the mark of a great song is when you can play it with just one instrument and a voice, and people still enjoy it.”
The saying “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” was certainly true in Bill’s case. He now started to branch out into non-musical areas. He got a degree in Finance from Cleveland State University and eventually started working in the Financial Planning and Accounting fields. He also became the father of three children: Natalie, William and Laura. He branched into theses other areas, but he never stopped being a gigging musician. “No matter whatever else I was involved in, I always played several gigs a month, often with multiple bands.”
In recent years, Bill started getting the urge to record his own music again. “I was doing very well professionally, but I just felt like something was missing from my life. I needed a creative outlet again.” Bill’s renewed commitment to making music is actually the reason for the creation of this website. “I wanted a place where people can find my music, see where I’m playing around town, or maybe even just say hello.”
So Bill’s musical journey continues. Beau Coup does the occasional reunion gig, which is always fun. He has continued to play with Jonah Koslen and has also played with Wally Bryson (Raspberries, Fotomaker) in recent years. The internet has dramatically changed how music is delivered to the public. “Ten years ago, if I wanted people to hear my music I would have had to send out a CD to each and every one of them. Now, with sites like Facebook, SoundCloud, Jango Radio, and Reverbnation, I can get a decent audience of people to hear my music almost immediately.”
Bill wants to share his music with as many people as possible. It’s really a labor of love. “There’s probably a million reasons not to record music, but the only reason I do it at all is because I still love doing it.”